Pottawatomie County voters on Feb. 12 will be asked to decide a proposed 5 percent increase on landline 911 fees to help fund improvements and operations of the county’s E-911 system.
The election affects those voters who live outside the city limits of Shawnee. If approved, most residential customers would see a monthly 911 tariff increase of 48 to 88 cents each month, depending on home phone service provider.
Tommy Arnold, director of the Pottawatomie County E-911 Center, said Tecumseh residents would see the highest increase of about 88 cents per month. An estimation chart provided by Arnold shows those in Bethel Acres would see a 57-cent per month hike, while those in Wanette would have an increase of about 61 cents. Landline customers in McLoud would see a 56-cent increase while Earlsboro phone bills would be 84 cents more and Tribbey bills about 74 cents higher each month.
Rates for business customers are a bit higher, with most increases in the $1-range, but some of the increases are 81 cents monthly on the low end to the highest increase of $2.14 per month for businesses.
The additional tariff is being requested for operations of enhanced 911 services and equipment, Arnold said, which can benefit customers.
“On the phone line side, it’s a small increase monthly, but in return, the enhanced services they get are lifesaving,
The county currently collects 10 percent of the landline telephone tariff rate for purposes of providing and operating 911 services. The ballot will ask voters to approve the maximum allowed for landlines, which is 15 percent.
At 10 percent, the Pottawatomie County E-911 system collected about $121,131.93 for the first six months of the fiscal year that started in July 2012.
Based on those collections, a five-percent increase could bring in about $120,000 in additional funding each year, although Arnold said collected 911 tariff fees have been on the decline because of decreases in landline phones. Arnold said they are losing about $30,000 each year from a reduction in the number of landline phones.
The E-911 system and its daily operations are funded from five key areas of fees and taxes. Arnold said funds come from collected landline fees, wireless phone fees, VOIP or Internet fees, as well as dispatching fees that are charged to agencies such as police agencies for dispatching, along with a portion of the county’s one-cent sales tax.
Arnold said the additional funds of the tariff, if approved, will be used for operations of the center and improvements above and beyond basic 911 service, such as advanced programs for emergency medical, fire and police dispatching programs.
“We’re still going to provide 911 if we don’t get the fees,” Arnold said about the election, although without them, some of the advanced protocols they have begun and additional services they are planning to implement by the end of April may not be able to continue.
Page 2 of 3 - EMD, or Emergency Medical Dispatching, began earlier this month. Instead of a 911 dispatcher taking basic information and sending an ambulance to a call, the dispatcher is now involved with the caller to collect answers to specific questions about the emergency or medical situation so they can give patients pre-arrival instructions based on the medical protocols, all while the ambulance is en route.
The EMD program requires additional training for dispatchers and costs, Arnold said, and they are planning to implement and continue further protocols for fire and police dispatching if the additional tariff funds are secured.
If the tariff increase doesn’t pass, basic 911 services will continue, he said, “and we’ll continue EMD as long as well can.”
The E-911 system has an annual budget from projected income in 2012-13 of $709,721.54, he said. Of that, $269,274.51 is expected from landline 911 fees at 10 percent.
Arnold said for the first six months of the fiscal year, $121,131.93 has been collected in landline tariffs and a similar amount is expected for the second half.
In the first half of the fiscal year, Arnold said they’ve collected about 99.65 percent of their projected income from fees, but they are down about $1,188, although numbers in collections can fluctuate each month.
The E-911 operating budget also includes about $179,704.99 from wireless fees, about $2,830.56 from internet phone line fees and about $167,636.40 in funds collected from area agencies for dispatching services. About $89,255.08 for the year comes from a portion of the county’s penny sales tax collections.
“That’s how we live day-to-day,” Arnold said.
It would likely be next fiscal year, which begins July 1, before the fees — or lack of receiving the proposed fees — would impact the budget, he said.
With additional tariff funds, the center does plan to replace a voice recorder used for 911 calls that is reaching its end of life. A new, next generation voice recorder will have more than voice capabilities, Arnold said, as it will be a new system capable of accepting 911 calls through text messages, audio or video.
“We’re planning to replace that if this passes,” he said. The voice recorder will go with phone system equipment that is already being upgraded, and it includes future capabilities for handling text and video 911 calls.
Maintenance fees for the new phone system will run about $1,500 a month, Arnold said, so the additional tariffs also will help fund those recurring costs and any other operational costs to keep up with operations.
Without a fee increase, “We don’t have a Plan B,” Arnold said, as far as being able to purchase the voice system, although basic 911 service would still be available.
Page 3 of 3 - The election on Feb. 12 falls on the same day many county voters also head to the polls for annual school board elections.
If approved, the increase will apply to those who live outside city limit areas of Shawnee and only applies to landline telephones. The proposed hike has nothing to do with cell line 911 fees, which already have a fee of 50 cents per number, Arnold said.
Arnold said 911 fees have been declining for most 911 centers around the state. And while nothing is certain yet, he said the state legislature will likely look in 2014 at ways to restructure 911 fees for the state and how they are collected and distributed, which could require all jurisdictions to charge the maximum landline tariff fee, which is 15 percent.
Informal talks have been continuing between Pottawatomie County and the city of Shawnee for a possible merger of the two 911 systems in order to provide better service to residents. While there’s been two meetings since talks have resumed, Arnold said the possible merger of the two 911 centers and the tariff election are “non-related.”
If a merger were to occur, those living in the city of Shawnee wouldn’t pay the 15 percent tariff fee unless voters in the city also pass it. Tariff fees currently collected in the city of Shawnee currently go to the city of Shawnee communications center.
The Pottawatomie County E-911 board is planning a special meeting 9 a.m. Tuesday at Tecumseh City Hall to further discuss the upcoming election on the 911 increase and how to provide more information to voters.
Watch for updates.